Trip Report – March 2023
NOTES: This trip was a disaster and I definitely would NOT recommend it.
We booked the tour through ROCKJUMPER BIRDING TOURS, and although we had a Rockjumper itinerary not a Heritage itinerary, Rockjumper refused to do anything about any of our complaints and hid behind the fact that ‘they were only the agents’ and have told us that ‘we do intend to continue offering the 2024 cruise in its current form’! This is possible the most disturbing thing about the whole experience, and I would honestly tell anyone to consider the honesty, integrity, and accountability of a company like Rockjumper who are clearly not interested in their guest experience as long as they get their money! Needless to say, we will never use Rockjumper or Heritage Expeditions again!
The pelagic birding was incredibly disappointing – few birds and very distant views, the organization (right from even before the trip with emails never returned) was appalling and birding on land with 70 birders and no organization (despite assurances that we would be split into groups) was well described by one birder as a ‘clusterf*ck’. In addition, they did not have the correct permissions to land in the Caroline Islands or the Bonin Islands so we basically just spent 14 boring days at sea after the Solomon Islands. Believe it or not they gave us a $200 shipboard credit because of this – even though we had missed 40% of the trip! Save your money and do something different. I would honestly think twice about doing any trips with the company (Heritage Expeditions) or Rockjumper!
Day 1 – Auckland. We stayed at the Hilton Hotel which was great because the boat docked right beside us and we were able to walk down and board. Heritage had told people to meet at a different hotel at 2pm so everyone checked out of their hotels in the morning and took their luggage to the Heritage hotel, expecting that arrangements had been made for them to leave it there and then they could go off for a few hours. But no arrangement had been made and the hotel didn’t want everyone hanging around the lobby so they were left outside on their luggage for 3 hours. Not a great start!!!
Once on board the boat was very nice and we were trying to look beyond being treated as 12 year olds by the Cruise Director and Expedition Leader and enjoy the next 29days.
Day 2 – We woke anchored off Great Barrier Island (still in NZ) and took zodiacs to shore where we were told it was just a self-guided walk. Not really sure why we were here; there weren’t many birds and certainly nothing we hadn’t all already seen in New Zealand. The one thing we did get better views of were Brown Teale.
In the afternoon we chummed for New Zealand Storm-petrel and did get some reasonable views. We also had Black-winged & Kermadec Petrel but quite a long way from the boat.
Day 3 – This morning we were off Russet on the mainland of NZ. There was a birding trip arranged to see the regular NZ species but, because most people had spent time in NZ before the cruise once again, there was nothing new to see. The option was a walk around Russet – which took about 10 minutes!
Afternoon at sea.
Day 4 – We landed at Norfolk Island (Aus) but the sea was incredibly rough and the ship did not have enough zodiacs to unload people ( there were 70 birders on board which is a crazy number) so it took hours for us to all get off. Apparently, although the itinerary doesn’t state this, 50% of the time it is too rough to land and they have to miss Norfolk Island!
Then it was up to Palm Glen NP where, once again, we were told to wander around and see what we could find. There were bird guides (supposedly) but most of them seemed more interested in adding to their own list than assisting other people. We got all of our targets except one (Norfolk Island Parakeet) so we weren’t too disappointed – just found the herding of people and the arrogance of the Expedition Leader to be a bit wearing – and this was only day 4. NI Robin, Slender-billed White-eye, Grey Fantail (sub sp.), Golden Whistler (Sub sp) Norfolk Gerygone.
Day 5 – Day at sea – very poor pelagic birding – only one life bird for us – Gould’s Petrel. There were a few other things but very small numbers and very distant.
Day 6. We landed in New Caledonia in the afternoon and disembarked on to buses to go up to Mt. Khogi.
We had been here before so didn’t feel too worried about what we saw and it was just as well because it was a complete sh*t show. Chris, the expedition leader kept yelling at people but never really getting anyone organized and so they proceeded to try and forest bird with 70 people!!! Eventually people walked off on their own (where were the other guides?!?!?) and the list of birds was quite impressive. This is a great place to bird and relatively easy to do on your own, as we did last time. (Please see our New Caledonia Trip page for more details)
The one surprise we did get here was Caledonia Thicketbird, which is quite unusual, although we had seen it on our previous trip to New Caledonia.
Day 7 – The rest of the group were going to Riviere Bleue on New Caledonia today for Kagu but we decided not to bother as we had seen everything last time and couldn’t handle the crowd. Spent the day at the Meridian Hotel enjoying some decent internet.
Afternoon at sea.
Days 8 & 9 – These were days at sea – not overly birdy but we did get some life birds over the course of the 2 days – Polynesian & Band-rumped Storm-Petrels, Collared Petrel (Magnificent sup sp) and what the ship as named Heritage Lava Petrel, which is currently an undescribed species.
Day 10 – We were really excited because now we were starting in the Solomons. Unfortunately, the government told us we had to clear customs at Nendo so we missed Santa Ana which was supposed to be our first stop. Still, the birding here was quite good and once you got over birding with 70 people, we did well – Nendo Whistler, Santa Cruz & Sanford’s White-eyes, Mackinley’s Cuckoo-dove, Red-bellied Fruit Dove, Pacific Imperial Pigeon and Cardinal Myzomela were all new for us. There were also new sub-species of Uniform Swift, White-rumped Swiftlet and Rufous Fantail
Afternoon at sea.
Day 11 Because of the change yesterday, we were unable to make it to the normal stop on Makira Island. Chris pulled together another option but it was disappointing and we didn’t get nearly as many species as we had expected. We also had to wait almost an hour to get off the ship because there aren’t enough zodiacs. We were literally just all wandering around a village – mass confusion as usual. San Cristobal Melidectes, Sooty Myzomela, Mottled Flowerpecker, Chestnut-bellied Monarch, Yellow-bibbed Lorikeet, Yellow-bibbed Fruit-dove and Chestnut-bellied Imperial-pigeon were life birds.
Afternoon at sea.
Day 12 – After 11 days on board, we are now told that someone came on board with COVID and, while they had had him in quarantine, they hadn’t told anybody and now we have 11 cases. So all those poor people were quarantined and missed the rest of the Solomons (which turned out to be the only birding we did – as you will see later). 10 days later, they ask us to mask up etc – we could easily have done it day 1 and solved the problem sooner!
It was a very early start to up to Mount Austin. We loaded onto the zodiacs at about 4am and then onto large buses in Honiara for a 30-
minute ride up the mountain. Once again, we all walked aimlessly up and down the road but we did get some good birds – Ducorp’s Cockatoo, Ultramarine Kingfisher, Solomon Islands Cuckoo-shrike, Black-and- white Monarch, Steel Blue Flycatcher, Midget Flowerpecker, White-billed Crow, Finsch’s Pygmy-parrot and Brown-winged Starling. Very hot so we loaded back onto the buses around noon and returned to the ship.
Afternoon at sea.
Day 13; Today was the island of Tetepare which is actually a conservation project run by local people. They study the turtles and the birds.
The landing station was quite productive with Dark-eyed White-eye, White-capped Monarch and Crimson-rumped Myzomela being new for us. We then spent sometime walking the trails with local guides (who really didn’t know much but all carried lazer pointers) and managed to get Grey-capped Cicadabird, Sanford’s Sea-eagle, Kolombangara Monarch, Cockerell’s Fantail and terrible views of Buff-headed Coucal.
In the afternoon we tried a new island (Rendover) just across the bay and it was full of Cockerell’s Fantails and White-capped Monarchs, which was lovely.
Day 14: Another early start – we left the ship in the dark and then loaded onto flatbed trucks to go up to a lodge on Kolombangara island. We started with poor views of Pale Mountain Pigeon and then spent the morning walking the road by the lodge. Quite birdy but not a great deal that was new – only Solomons White-eye and Oriole Whistler.
When we got back to the boat, we were told that we had been denied entry to the Caroline Islands and would now have to miss that completely – one of the main reasons for coming on the trip!!!!
Day 15 – They had decided to spend another day on Kolombangara because we now had to tread water for the next 2 weeks. We visited a small village with the hope of Roviana Rail but no luck. It was also ridiculous with 70 people lined up trying to look for the bird! We did see Duchess Lorikeet but that was all that was new.
After the village we did a zodiac cruise through the mangrove and picked up North Melanesian Cuckooshrike.
In the afternoon, we visited the tiny island of Ranongga and got great views of Ronangga White-eye right from the beach.
That was it really – out of our 29 day cruise we actually got to do 15 days of the intended itinerary and the rest was spent on board biding our time until we could get off in Japan. The pelagic birding was slow and most species were at a significant distance because the ship is really too large. There is no point in doing anymore daily reports because Day 16-29 were exactly the same – nothing!!!
We did get a few pelagic lifebirds – but not enough to make up for the landbirds we missed. Beyond disappointing. Matsudaira’s Storm-petrel, Bonin, Bulwer’s & Beck’s Petrels plus Bannerman’s Shearwater.
A visit to the supposed nesting site of Bryans Shearwater was unsuccessful.
The single highlight of the last 2 weeks was a visit to Torishima, the nesting site of the Short-tailed Albatross. It was quite spectacular with hundreds of birds and wonderful close views but a high price to pay at $14,000 EACH!!
Aboard the Heritage Adventurer
Guides & Resources
Birds of Melanesia – Guy Dutson